HORROR MONTH #13: The Black Tapes, by Paul Bae and Terry Miles (2015)

Type of Media: Podcast

Remember when everyone was obsessed with ghost hunting about half a decade back? That was weird, wasn't it? Reality TV producers just decided to follow a bunch of teams with EMF meters and tricked-out vans, traveling from one old dilapidated building to another and yelling "DID YOU JUST HEAR THAT?" at each other. I'm sure the popularity of those shows lead to an increase in self-proclaimed ghost hunters, mediums, and exorcists, willing to help you with that little spirit problem you got for only a few thousand bucks.

The Black Tapes, a faux-journalistic podcast that takes its cues from Serial, starts off under the pretense that host Alex Reagan is profiling members of this paranormal investigative community. It doesn't take long, though, for a much more interesting target to emerge: Dr. Richard Strand, an investigator loathed by the rest of the community because, unlike them, he doesn't believe in the paranormal and works to provide rational explanations for all of their cases.

However, Dr. Strand hasn't been able to solve every mystery thrown his way. In his office he has a series of tapes in black cases showing allegedly paranormal phenomena that he can't explain. While Strand claims that he only can't explain them yet because he lacks the scientific knowledge, Alex isn't so sure. The black tape mysteries, like a shadow that's appeared behind a man in photographs for 40 years or a mute murderer who claims he can be in two places at once, seem too freakish for a mere scientific breakthrough to clear them up.

While the mysterious cases are fun on their own, what elevates The Black Tapes is the dichotomy between Alex and Dr. Strand. Strand is arrogant in his skepticism, looking down at people for not being satisfied by his sometimes shaky explanations. Alex continually has her beliefs challenged by what she finds in the cases and over time alters those beliefs, while getting increasingly frustrated by Strand's refusal to do the same. Over time she shows herself to be a truer skeptic than Strand, who clings to his belief of a rational, purely scientific world in the face of mounting evidence that no such thing exists.

Podcasts are by no means a new form of media, but it seems like recently there has been an advent of podcasts that work more like found footage radio dramas. The Black Tapes is a great example of the form, and is easy to get lost in even when you remind yourself it's not real. If you want to make your commute to work a bit creepier, I recommend a listen.